The 1883 Liberty Head nickel that caused so much trouble. Perhaps emboldened by the success of the copper-nickel 3-cent piece—by 1883 in circulation nearly 20 years—the Philadelphia mint began producing the new type 5-cent nickel in 1883 without including the word “CENTS” anywhere on the coin.
The unscrupulous immediately seized the opportunity, gold-plating the new 5-cent nickels and often successfully passing them off as 5-dollar pieces.
The authorities were quickly made aware of the problem and soon modified the new nickel by adding the word “CENTS” to the coin later in 1883. The 1883NC (“No CENTS”) nickels—despite being produced in much smaller numbers than the 1883WC (“With CENTS”) nickels—are today much easier to find in nice condition. Because of the widespread commotion they were saved in large numbers by the public.
One note about the gold-plated 1883NC Liberty nickels, which have sometimes been advertised as “Racketeer nickels”—by far the large majority of the pieces seen today, of course, are fakes (of fakes!). One easy way to tell the modern fakes is to look at the wear on the underlying coin. Since the fraud occurred very early in the coins’ lives, any gold-plated piece with significant wear visible is…not an “original” fake 5-dollar coin.